Since his arrival in Dallas in 2008, there's no doubt that maestro Jaap van Zweden has fundamentally changed the way the Dallas Symphony Orchestra performs. There is a noticeable difference in the delicacy of phrasing, precision, volume control and artistry with this orchestra when van Zweden is at the helm.
Last night, listening to the orchestra perform at the Meyerson, I felt extremely present during each piece. It's an incredible thing to hear: a succession of moments in which musical art is created right in front of you.
When I spoke with van Zweden last summer about his success with the orchestra, I asked him what was next for the DSO. His response came without hesitation: recognition.
"What is very important now, not only for the orchestra but also for the organization," he said, "is that our quality has to be recognized worldwide. That is the next step. We can work as hard as we do now and we can sound like the Chicago symphony or the New York Philharmonic but if it is not recognized, at a certain moment some of the musicians will start to give up because you want to be rewarded for what you are doing."
In pursuit of such recognition, the DSO is heading out on its first European tour with van Zweden on March 8. It's been a decade since the orchestra has traveled to Europe, and this trip in particular must feel significant to van Zweden, who will, in effect, be bringing the product of his efforts over the last five years to his homeland. The orchestra will play in seven cities across three countries, including a stop in Amsterdam, van Zweden's home.
This weekend's program, which I took in last night, is a preview of the music the DSO will play on tour and a showcase of this orchestra's talents. The concert opens with one of the most artistic interpretations of Wagner's Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde I've heard. The layering of textures and dynamics in this performance was gorgeous, washing over the audience in waves of sounds.
On tour the orchestra will also perform Elegy by Steven Stucky, a seven-minute excerpt from a larger work commissioned by the DSO (the symphony's recording of which was nominated for a Grammy this year). This piece was no doubt chosen for the tour as a representation of American art, and it holds its own. It is melodic, melancholy and very moving without being overly sentimental. It also provides great contrast to the very European closing to this program, Richard Strauss' Suite from Der Rosenkavalier, a somewhat macabre and yet delicious collection of waltzes that demands your attention and sweeps you away.
One piece on this weekend's program that's not part of the tour is Beethoven's second piano concerto. South African-born pianist Anton Nel, a professor at UT-Austin, made his DSO debut last night as soloist in this performance. His playing is thrilling to watch and hear if not a tad overdone in terms of theatrics. I found parts of the first movement tedious, but midway through the second movement Nel captured the room with his sensitivity and sound and his playful back and forth with the orchestra in the final movement was captivating.
In addition to repeat performances with the orchestra tonight, Saturday, and Sunday, Anton Nel and DSO concertmaster Alexander Kerr are giving a free chamber music recital at the Dallas Museum of Art this Saturday at 3 p.m. in the Horchow auditorium. The concert is presented as part of the Fine Arts Chamber Players Bancroft Family concert series and will feature music of Debussy and Gershwin.